There's a scene in DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES where Lynette Scavo, dressed in business suit and heels, trudges up her immaculately manicured lawn, briefcase under one arm, two screaming boys under the other with two more dragging behind. This is the new image of the modern woman: married suburbanite juggling family and work with varying results. Frustrated, insecure, desperate. And she's not the only one. Since debuting two seasons ago, DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES has done more than become a ratings bonanza for ABC and pushed its star actresses onto the covers of every magazine from People to Pet Fancy, it's come to define femininity in the new millennium pushing aside former single party girls in favor of stay-at-home-moms who still don't have it all together.
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The success of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES can be seen as the result of a backlash against the outrageous, swinging single woman of the late 90's, made famous in everything from MELROSE PLACE, to BRIDGET JONES, to perhaps most famously SEX AND THE CITY. Styled in the latest designer fashions these trendy femmes were bold, brash urbanites who prowled the bars and nightclubs of ever metropolitan city looking for booze, men, and trouble. And everyone had a good time, for a while anyway. Problem is most of these shows characterized the post-feminist, sexually-liberated woman as overaggressive, materialistic, and selfish. SEX AND THE CITY in particular portrayed single women in such an over-the-top manner it's not surprising the audience grew hungry for something more demure.
While its tempting to harp on their differences, SEX AND THE CITY and DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES seem oddly connected, the former being the logical evolution of the later; women moving from their twenties into their thirties, getting married and settling down with their family in the burbs. They may not be any more stable, but hey, at least they found husbands.
Take Gabriel Solis for example, a former model turned trophy wife who abandoned her career on the runway for a life with her businessman husband, only to realize life on Wisteria Lane wasn't exactly what the chamber of commerce promised. Or poor Lynette, a once high-powered exec, stuck raising four hellion boys while her husband travels the country on business. The longing Lynette feels towards her former life is palpable and yet she hides it behind a maternal sense of duty that seems to stem more from societal expectations than from her own desires. During the show's second season, Lynette returns to the work world, leaving her husband to watch their four boys, only to discover all the ways being a part-time mom can interfere with being a full-time professional.
Regrets like these highlight the single biggest difference between Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha and the housewives of Wisteria Lane. While the women of SEX AND THE CITY spent most of their days (and nights) trying to find their place in the world, the DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES already have. Each has made decisions regarding the direction of their lives and now they're dealing with the fallout. They now have to cope with child-rearing, husbands and loneliness. In other words they're desperate, and it's those universal themes that a whole generation of women respond to.